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Hometown Heroes

Peter Harris

Peter Harris (click for larger version)
07/01/2007 - I don't know what it is about heroes, but have you ever noticed that they never seem to think of themselves as heroes? They'll do the most amazing, selfless, brave deeds and afterward shrug it off as something anybody would have done.

This month's featured hero, Peter Harris, is no exception.

Peter, a Casper native, graduated from NCHS in 1992, from Casper College with degrees in biology and vocal music in 1995, and, that same year, joined the Army Reserves. In the Reserves, Peter chose training as an auto mechanic because it would be a great real-world job skill. In between 1995 and now, he served in Korea and Iraq.

Erin, MaKenzie and Jonathon with Peter (click for larger version)
Oh, and in his free time, Peter found time to marry lovely and gracious Erin who is the administrative assistant for Casper Alliance Church. They have two children, Jonathon 10 and MaKenzie 8.

Shortly after they were married, Peter became Active Duty with the Fourth ID. Two weeks later, he was deployed to Korea. His skills as a "gear-head" (auto mechanic), were not only valuable in real life, they were also valuable to the Army.

Peter left for Korea a month before Jonathon was born.

He'd been in Korea for 10 months when he fell off a truck and "tore up both my knees." He was sent back to the States, given a medical discharge, and could finally hold his baby son.

Thinking his military career was over, Peter and Erin settled into family life, had their second child and, in 2002, Peter joined the Sheriff's Department and became a Detention Officer. "I get to meet lots of interesting people," he says with a wry smile.

By 2004, Peter was looking for additional ways to serve his country so he joined the Wyoming National Guard. Because of his knees, it took some convincing for the Guard to accept him. He signed a waiver, was examined by a battery of Orthopedic doctors, and finally they let him in.

After less than a month in the Guard, he was ordered to Iraq with The 133rd for an 18-month deployment. There goes that useful skill as a gear-head again.

He had three days to get ready. He reported to Ft. Lewis and spent three months training, flew to Kuwait and spent nine days acclimating to the desert heat, and then loaded onto a bus with fellow soldiers and rolled across the border into Iraq.

Peter's job was to keep the vehicles operating. Their base of operations was from Baghdad south to the Kuwaiti border. Sometimes a vehicle in need of repair could drive into the base under its own power. Other times, a vehicle in need of repair was stranded out in the desert or in an Iraqi town, so the mechanics traveled out to it. Depending on the safety of the situation, the mechanics would either repair the vehicle there or tow it back to base.

I'm nervous about putting Peter on the spot or maybe I'm worried about what I might hear, but I ask him if he ever came under enemy fire. Peter thinks for a moment, then smiles. "Well, once I got the idea they were shooting at the Italians. They are not real good shots." He continues to hark back for a second longer and adds, "But we did get mortared a few times."

What was that like?

They'd take cover if they thought they needed to.

Good plan.

Peter says, "Our people were fortunate because we didn't have any casualties." A broken eardrum from a "boom-boom" (an Improvised Explosive Device) going off under a vehicle. A near-casualty when one of the men, driving a road grader, noticed his blade starting to lift up a stick-like object. He immediately turned off the motor, got off the vehicle, and called EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal). If he hadn't done that, he wouldn't be here anymore because that stick-looking object was packed with explosives, laced with shrapnel, and daisy-chained to a whole slew of additional explosives. Peter says, "Armored vehicles are one thing. They have a lot of protection. But on a road grader, there's nothing between you and the bomb." Or in this case, the series of bombs.

On the home front Erin was doing her best to keep the kids and herself preoccupied with other things. It wasn't easy.

"I didn't watch the news," Erin tells me. "I became ill, lost a lot of weight. We went to Montana to live with my parents. I didn't work. But if he goes back again, I'll work just to keep my sanity."

Go back again? Yes. Peter is eligible to be deployed again in December.

Gingerly, I ask the kids how they did with Dad being gone.

Jonathon answers first. Even the memory of it starts him trembling and it's hard for him to speak. "I felt sad. I missed him a lot. I had a hard time at school. He was gone from when I was in 2nd grade to when I was in 3rd grade."

And how about when Dad came home?

His voice trembles as he relives his dad's homecoming. "I was very happy," Jonathon says. "And then I could concentrate better on my work."

And MaKenzie?

She tries to be brave in the telling, but her voice shakes a little. She shakes a little. "I felt desperate. Sad. I told my mom I missed my dad. We prayed for my dad to come back and be alive."

And when Dad came home?

"I ran up to him and gave him a hug and we started doing fun stuff with him again. We played games. Mommy and Daddy got to spend time with us together."

I can see that Peter's family is so proud of him that their very souls seem to be bursting with it.

And now that we in Casper know Peter Harris and his family a little better, how could we not also burst with pride knowing that they live right here in Casper. Right here in Our Town!

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